The publishing philosophy of the Flat Hat Opinions section
The goal of The Flat Hat’s Opinions section is to promote meaningful, productive dialogue between different members of the College of William and Mary community. We seek to highlight diverse experiences, ideological perspectives, and beliefs about topics ranging from everything from breakfast sandwiches at Marketplace to political polarization in the United States—and everything in between.
An opinion piece should be well-articulated, well-developed, and well-defended. Opinion pieces are the views of the author and the author’s alone. The Flat Hat does not seek to censor the opinions of our campus community, even when those opinions may not align with those of The Flat Hat’s staff.
However, creating productive dialogue requires setting guidelines. The Flat Hat acknowledges that in the past, we have published guest columns that ran contrary to our overarching goal of facilitating productive dialogue on campus. Like all journalists should, we are attempting to rectify these mistakes by clearly illustrating our plan for the Opinions sections in the spring 2021 semester and beyond.
We are taking the following steps to improve our Opinions coverage:
- Increased information about guest writers. We frequently highlight voices from outside The Flat Hat’s newsroom in our Opinions section. These guest columns, penned by students, professors, staff members, and Williamsburg community members, all make unique contributions to campus discourse. Moving forward, we will require that all guest writers attach additional information about themselves (major, class year, affiliated clubs, etc.) to be included at the end of the article. We hope this enables our readers to understand more about the author, as well as their expertise in the subject being discussed.
- Proactive consultation with campus groups when we receive unsolicited articles about sensitive topics. Campus groups and individuals often submit opinion articles about sensitive topics, often political ones, to The Flat Hat for our consideration. In the past, we have traditionally published these unsolicited articles with limited oversight. At times, this has led to frustration, understandably, among campus groups whose views contradict those expressed in the paper. Moving forward, we will proactively reach out to groups and individuals on campus in a good faith effort to present nuanced, multi-dimensional discussions to our readers on these topics.
- Improved fact checking. Opinions need evidence. Moving forward, The Flat Hat highly encourages guest writers to employ statistics, poll results, and other appropriate means of evidence (properly cited, of course) to develop their argument. We are also introducing an official fact-checking role on our staff, who will verify each submitted piece of evidence before the editing process begins.
- Increased information about submitting guest columns. The Flat Hat welcomes guest columns at any time. Moving forward, we will include information about how to submit guest columns at the end of every article to ensure that readers have ample opportunity to make their voice heard.
- No-tolerance policy for hate speech and inflammatory rhetoric. The Flat Hat will neither tolerate nor publish opinion pieces that rely on hateful, inflammatory, or otherwise unproductive rhetoric. While we adamantly believe in the right to free expression, our coverage should not —and will not—cause College of William and Mary students to doubt whether they belong in our community. Speech that has more than a trivial chance of inspiring violence, excessive antagonism, or vitriol against any member of the College community will not be tolerated.
- Introducing a new Standards & Practices Editor role. Moving forward, The Flat Hat will hire an independent Standards & Practices Editor to oversee and investigate complaints brought against the paper. The Standards & Practices Editor is not managed directly by any member of The Flat Hat staff. Their duty is to investigate concerns reported by members of the College community, including those related to Opinions coverage.
- Continuing our current policy of keeping subjective and objective news separate. It is a long-standing Flat Hat policy that staffers and guest writers may not overlap their subjective and objective coverage. News writers may not write Opinion pieces about topics they have previously covered in the News section, and vice versa. We hope to keep our editorial journalism and our reporting in separate spheres to limit the potential for bias.
We are excited to continue facilitating campus discourse in the years to come with these guidelines.